2015 in MMA: A year-end report

THE year 2015 was a breakthrough year in the Philippine MMA scene. A local MMA star finally ended an eight-year wait for a world heavyweight title, and the world's grandest MMA stage finally set foot in the country.

As we bid 2015 goodbye, let's take a look back at the top local MMA stories of the year.

1. The Poke

One Championship has been doing two events at the Mall of Asia Arena annually, and 2015 is no stranger to that. However, an ugly ending to the main event highlighted One's first Philippine stop for the year. While no Filipino was involved in the match, the eye-poking incident between Ben Askren and Luis Santos deprived the jampacked MOA Arena a classic as the One welterweight title was at stake. One then set a rematch in Singapore later in the year, but it was called off as Santos failed to make weight. However, Santos cried foul for alleged organizational failures, especially when he claimed that One kept on rescheduling his match with him getting late notices.

2. An Untimely Death

Another weigh-in related incident took place this year in One, this time on a sad note. Yang Jian Bing died while on his final stages of training camp of his supposed fight in the Philippines against Geje Eustaquio. The Chinese fighter was believed to have passed away due to rhabdomyolysis, a complication triggered by dehydration. He fainted while jogging along the streets of Manila and was immediately rushed to the San Juan De Dios Hospital, where he was declared dead right on the day of his supposed match. Yang's death prompted One to rehash its weigh-in rules, banning dehydration as a form of weight loss and setting the official weigh-in right on fight night, three hours before the start of the event to be exact, with daily pre-fight weigh-ins to take place in fight week.

3. UFC Finally in the Philippines!

May 16 was finally the time. The world's biggest MMA promotion, the UFC, staged an event in the MMA-crazy Philippine nation. It featured Frankie Edgar dominating Urijah Faber to draw him closer to a title shot and Mark Muñoz succeeding in his retirement fight against Luke Barnatt. The good reception to the event despite needing to shell out a huge amount of cash for a ticket opened a possibility for UFC to stage more Philippine fight cards, especially that it found a new partner in TV5.

4. Vera Finally Reaches the Promised Land

He may have waited eight years for a world title shot, but it was worth the wait for Brandon Vera. In his first crack at an MMA championship, Vera quickly knocked out Paul Cheng to become the first One heavyweight titlist in the org's year-end showcase at the Mall of Asia Arena. Despite a prerequisite failure that led to the disqualification of original opponent Chi Lewis Parry, who also cried foul for the unfortunate event, the fight still push through, and Vera downed late replacement Cheng in just 25 seconds to become the inaugural heavyweight champ.

Now that 2015 is over, what's next for MMA in the Philippines?

For Fox Sports commentator Steve Dawson, who does the play-by-play for the said sports network's coverage of One Championship, the future is bright for the country's MMA industry.

"Without question, the Philippines has a good future ahead in the MMA. What the UFC does in the Philippines is to make the pie bigger. UFC generates more excitement, while in One Championship, the Philippines is a mainstay. The Philippines has some of the best fighters in One. They attract most of the fans." Dawson said.

For One President Victor Cui, on the other hand, the fan support, even for a Filipino's opponent, is a key to further boost MMA in the country.

Cui described the Filipino MMA fans, "There's a different energy, a different vibe in the Filipino fans. I give you an example. Mark Striegl was the fan favorite. His opponent, Reece, came to none. Striegl loses, but his fans still cheered for Reece. That is what mixed martial arts is all about. Everybody respects someone who is a better athlete."

However, the case of Striegl's upset loss, according to Cui, bared a proof that it may take a while before someone joins Vera as a world MMA champion.

For Muñoz, the lack of versatility among the fighters, who are mostly strikers, is what keeping them from either winning a world title or holding to it for a long time.

"For me, it's just connecting the dots. Wrestling is what keeping everything together. I wanna develop the fighters in wrestling and take the sport up a notch here in the Philippines," the retired ground game specialist advocated.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno